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Happy Birthday EK Johnston!

We interrupt my regular blogging schedule for something a little special. It is E.K. Johnston’s birthday – and what better gift to give a writer than a review? Or better yet TWO reviews! If you want to wish her a happy birthday as well, scamper over and buy her books!

Granted, I’m cheating a bit – I’ve technically already reviewed one of these books, but it never made it to the blog since I didn’t HAVE a blog back when I first read it. But, since I was planning on reviewing the second book in the duology, I figured I’d included the review for the first one too. Be prepared, this will be a long post as I have a lot of feelings, and it is all E.K. Johnston’s fault.

Ladies and gents, I’d like you introduce you to one of the most creative takes on dragons/dragon slaying that I have read in a very long time. Warning – I am likely to be less than coherent with this review. Babble tends to happen when I discover a story I love. THE STORY OF OWEN definitely falls into the category of “books I love.” Why, you ask? Well, for one, Johnston managed one of the most well thought out alternate histories I’ve seen in years. The existence of dragons affect some of the major incidences in our history, the Suez Canal in particular, and you know that vast desert across North Africa? It was caused by improper dragon butchering after Rome defeated Carthage. Draconic existence also affects even the most ordinary parts of day to day life. Drive a car that still runs on fossil fuels? You definitely had to pass a class in how to avoid being attacked on the road by a carbon-eating dragon. Like the music of the Beatles? That’s probably because they paved the way for popular culture that didn’t mention the large and scaly elephants in the room. These are the types of details that I just love, and this story has tons of them. It was like Easter egg hunting, and I was grinning with each one I noticed. On to the characters! Owen himself was the kind of teen you’d expect a budding dragon slayer to be – awkward, popular, and really terrible at homework but really incredible with a sword. I enjoyed how normal he was, if that makes sense at all. However, I have to admit that Siobhan, our narrator was definitely the character I connected with most. The Bardic aspects of this story, complete with the way she “heard” each person around her in various musical tapestries and instrumentation, created a wonderful full-audio effect for me. I grew up with music in school and this was a wonderful trip through band-hall nostalgia. Added bonus: the supporting cast was just as well-rounded out as Owen and Siobhan. Owen’s aunts in particular warmed my heart in the best of ways. And of course, I’m always excited anytime an author can manage women with swords and smith craft seamlessly in a present day setting. And finally the plot! Well… I can’t tell you much about the plot without risking River Song in my ear whispering “spoilers!” Let me just say that Johnston does a great job of connecting the small Canadian town to the global scale while still making the story about a community. People, not dragons, are at the heart of this tale. Which is as it should be.

On to PRAIRIE FIRE! After the awesome that was THE STORY OF OWEN, my expectations were sky high for the sequel. This book went so far beyond exceeding those expectations that I can’t even begin to say how much. Pulling off a sequel to match a first book is hard enough; writing a book that is even better is a super challenge, but DAMN did Johnston blow my mind with this book, too.

The really fantastic thing for me was the way the world of the dragon slayers expanded with this book. All of the details of the required military service turned out so intricate with layers of politics and prejudices, and Owen and Siobhan’s sneaky ways of working around the system to keep up with their goals for the future kept me guessing and cheering them on.

I loved, too, how the cast of characters expanded. Getting the global feel with all the world wide slayers really opened up the scale for me again. I tried to think of a fave character, but honestly they were all fantastic. Everyone felt so individual without anyone sliding into a clichéd pigeonhole.

Finally, holy crap the dragons. THE DRAGONS guys. So many new kinds to learn about, and the art and business of dragon slaying just got bigger and bigger and BIGGER.

Oh, I feel I should give one brief warning here: you WILL cry buckets in this book, guys. Buckets and buckets and buckets. Johnston kicked me in the teeth with part of this book, and I just dare you to stay dry eyed with you get to that part. But then come DM me when you do so I can flail with someone LOL.

All in all, a great sequel to OWEN and a world I’d love to see Johnston revisit in short stories or something at a later date.

Have any of y’all checked these out? Let me know what you think if you read it! @C_L_McCollum

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